Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Elliot, a commentator on this blog, has sent an interesting link about the Turin Shroud. As I am not a fan myself, I found this way of proceeding was the most sensible to show it could easily be faked.

A few more comments on Lemche's The Israelites in Myth and Tradition. Once we get past the survey of extra-biblical sources, he returns to a subject he examined in the introduction - were the Israelites a distinct ethnic group? I can understand how the idea they were has taken root. The concept of Jewish separateness, combined with the Biblical story of the Conquest suggests that ethnic identity is important and that the people of Israel don't want to be confused with their neighbours. But I have to admit I'm with Lemche on this one. I have no idea what an 'ethnic' as opposed to 'cultural' group is, but I expect the Israelites were genetically identical to their neighbours. When they became culturally distinct is another matter and almost impossible to tell from the archaeology. Lemche thinks that despite the Bible going on and on about Jewish distinctiveness, this must all be a fiction projected back from a later period. Once again, he depends too much on what the archaeology cannot tell us and too little on what the Bible can. Dever claims he can see plenty in the archaeology that points to a cultural unity to Israel/Judah much earlier than Lemche can.

Overall, I am not terribly impressed by Lemche's short book. I can see where he is coming from (which evidently Dever cannot, with his ranting about post modernism) but it strikes me as the sort of scepticism that refuses to engage critically with the evidence. The fact that we can come to different conclusions about which bits of the Biblical naratives are reliable does not validate Lemche's method. Nor does the recent spate of forgery allegations. Indeed, some of his comments on the Tel Dan inscription especially strike me as special pleading. Lemche relies on arguments from silence and declaring most the evidence out of court. This means that he must keep a dignified silence himself rather than postulate his own alternative story (of a post exilic origin for Jewish identity) if he wishes to be true to himself and consistant with his method.

My next read will be by the conservative scholar, Kenneth Kitchen called On the Reliability of the Old Testament.

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